Why have a Funeral?
Most of us have never confronted that question. Funerals seem to be a necessary evil we endure when someone in the family dies. When bad things happen to us the first thing we want and need to do is establish the significance of the event.
When I discovered the need for significance I began to understand the vital importance of the funeral. When some-one we love has died, the ceremonies and the funeral process establish the significance of the person and the significance their lives have had in our lives. If we can establish significance, we can move on; if we can't, then grief and grieving become a much more difficult and delayed process.
The Funeral and Significance
The funeral process establishes significance. That is what the funeral is for and that is the value of the funeral process. The whole funeral experience helps establish significance in two meaningful areas.
First we must establish the personal significance of the person who has died. We need to discover how important our loss is before we can grieve it. This is necessary because we really do not know the value of a person until they are gone. We do not know what we have lost until we have lost it. That is why we must establish the significance this person had in our lives before we can move on in our recovery.
Planning a funeral is an act of love. Some folks have tried to paint the funeral as plastic, costly, meaningless and even pagan. They seem to think the sophisticated thing to do is deny death and ignore the inner need to express love toward a loved one who has died.
A funeral is our gift of love to him the one we love, and we will make the decisions about the size and nature of this gift. For each of our family member, selecting caskets, planning the music, identifying just the right person to deliver the eulogy and having a large group of family and friends surrounding him or her with support and love was a most healing experience.
Gatherings provide a chance to talk. Visitation times at the funeral home or friends dropping by the home give us the chance to begin telling the stories about our loved one. We establish significance as we talk about the person. The stories we tell will one day become the great memories that stay with us forever.
The funeral gives us permission to grieve. Our society seems to see grief as an enemy to be avoided. We seem to think that respected people do-not show grief in public. Several years ago, an article in a magazine described what the author thought was the barbarian practice of having a "three-hanky funeral" as if that was the ultimate in poor taste. The implication is that brave and cultured people do not cry or express their emotions; they are to carry their heads high and never show any sign of cracking. Somehow we developed the idea that grief is hard on the family and should be avoided if at all possible. Sometimes families choose not to have a funeral with the idea that if they do not have that final experience, they will not grieve as much.
Grief is not an enemy. It is nature's way of healing a broken heart. We are doing the best job of handling grief when we are grieving. The more we express our grief the sooner we work through this process that leads to health. Nothing that I know of gives us a better chance and more freedom of expression than the funeral experience.
We also need to establish the social significance of the person. That is what the funeral is all about. A funeral is a gathering of family and friends to establish the significance of a life. It is designed to say to the family that this life mattered to them and to the friends who were also touched by this life.
Significance is best established when a funeral focuses on the life of the person. We now understand the value of personalizing the funeral for this purpose. Families can feel free to eulogize their loved one, or to ask a close friend or trained professional to do so. Many families bring personal items and pictures to the service to further personalize the event. Music is more likely to be a song the person loved or a song that meant a great deal to a marriage.
The funeral is about mental health and healing. When we have inventoried our loss and begun the healing process of grief then, and only then, has the funeral done its vital work in our lives.